Emotion-Focused Therapy

Emotion-Focused Therapy for individuals is the cousin to Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples and has been most extensively developed by Dr. Les Greenberg. From Greenberg’s website:

Some unpleasant emotions have a purpose—some are “constructive.” When constructive emotions are worked with skillfully, the result is often enormous therapeutic change.… The isolated senior’s anxiety may be a “cue”—a constructive unpleasant emotion. In other words, she may be better served by working with her isolation-induced anxiety rather than against it. The same may be true of the alcoholic’s shame, the neglected spouse’s frustration, and the depression of the office worker in a dead-end job. Emotions provide us with information about how we should conduct our lives. Constructive unpleasant emotions often contain great guiding wisdom. They can act as cues and direct our growth. And being emotions, they often contain the energy to get the job done. Properly harnessed emotions often lead to profound shifts in well-being.

While some emotions, such as primary anger, can be extremely motivating and helpful, other emotions are “maladaptive” and, when deeply examined, show themselves as hindrances to the client. An example of a maladaptive emotion might be fear of certain people or situations that was adaptive in childhood but no longer makes sense in the life of the adult, even though it is still very deeply felt. In such a situation, once the client has felt safe enough to dip into that fear in the therapy session, and the brain circuit related to that experience is open, the therapist can guide the client in transforming the maladaptive fear with another emotion, say pride or curiosity, that is also present for the client but has so far been overshadowed by his/her maladaptive fear. The therapist can, thus, assist the client in physically (on the level of neural pathways) making a change in the way his/her habitual thought and feeling processes actually work.

EFT is a well-researched, effective and safe mode of therapy, but it can feel intense and must be paced according to the level of trust that has been developed between the client and therapist and the client’s sense of comfort. It involves the client’s willingness to experience deep, difficult emotions directly in session, with the therapist present as a trained and compassionate guide. The payoff is that the client’s inner experiences, as well as his/her experiences out in the world, can be gradually and profoundly changed for the better in a way that mere cognitive or intellectual understanding often cannot achieve.